Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
Fibromyalgia is commonly thought of as a condition that affects adults. However, fibromyalgia also occurs in children and adolescents. Estimates suggest that juvenile-onset fibromyalgia affects 2 to 6 percent of school children, mostly adolescent girls. It is most commonly diagnosed between ages 13 and 15.
Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
In children with fibromyalgia, symptoms include:
- Widespread diffuse pain. The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
- Headache. Frequent headaches occur in a majority of patients with fibromyalgia.
- Sleep disturbances. Despite complaints of severe fatigue, these children often take an hour or more to fall asleep. Even when they do fall asleep, many have difficulty maintaining sleep and wake up during the night.
- Fatigue. People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Other problems. Many people who have fibromyalgia also may have pain or cramping in the lower abdomen, report cognitive impairment (described as feeling in a "fog"), and experience depression and anxiety.
Doctors don't know what causes fibromyalgia, but it most likely involves a variety of factors working together. These may include:
- Genetics. Because fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
- Infections. Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
- Physical or emotional trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.
Why does it hurt?
Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals.
Risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
- Your sex. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed more often in girls and women.
- Family history. You may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia if a relative also has the condition.
- Rheumatic disease. If you have a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
The pain and lack of sleep associated with fibromyalgia can interfere with the ability to function at school or at home. The frustration of dealing with an often-misunderstood condition also can result in depression and anxiety.
April 29, 2014
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